Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cheney Almost Right

The bombs and gunfire may never stop in Iraq, but the nationwide celebration has begun over the transfer of power to the Iraqis over their cities. People with long memories might recall then Vice President Cheney's prediction early in 2003 that the Iraqis would welcome the American-led liberation of the country. Instead, "National Sovereignty Day" will now be marked as a day closer to the total US departure from Iraq. So Cheney was right about the rejoicing - but wrong about the time and the reason for all the dancing in the streets. Thanks, Dick.

I was stupefied to read that a survey of watchers of "The Colbert Report" showed that some conservatives (no numbers were given) watch the program believing that Colbert is really just one of their own, except that the show is on Comedy Central instead of Fox News. All the merciless spoofing and ridicule in the show, which was originally meant to be a sendup of Bill O'Reilly, evidently goes right over the heads of these folks. If you're Colbert, how do you take this news? Are you glad for the extra viewers, or frustrated that you're just not getting through to everyone? I guess it's an occupational risk of being in the "comedic irony" business. You fool some of the people all of the time without even intending to.

So what can I, your humble servant, tell you about Michael Jackson that you don't already know? Probably very little. You know he was famous from a very young age, that he became wildly popular all over the world while in his 20's, that his personal life and affairs spun out of control as he got older, that his musical influence is so pervasive that it shows up in every tryout for "American Idol", and that lawyers will live large for decades off the complications of the Jackson assets and the enormous debts he left.
Is that all there is to know? Well, no. But I didn't know him personally, and I have learned that just because we recognize a face doesn't mean we know what's behind it. We don't know the smallest details of his death yet, but soon will. Nor will we know for awhile the cost of having done so much, so well, at such an early age. It sometimes happens that the things we are best known for occur when we are in our twenties, or even younger. Then what?
Some folks will no doubt compare Jackson's life to that of his white counterpart, Elvis. Both lives blended elements of happiness and sorrow. The works both left behind will generate money for decades. Both changed the world, though we may not be far enough removed to know whether for good or bad. Both will require wise judgement when the Final Accounting comes around, but I can say that Michael Jackson worked hard at some things to make the world a little better. Hey, that was a song, too, right? Anyway, may he rest in peace.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Losing My "Chops"?

A person asked to comment on Iran. I have no pretense of knowing anything that can't be found in print in this country, so this could be all wrong. The Iranians have set up a howl over the results of their recent presidential election, although there are plenty of folks who think the whole thing was done the way it was supposed to be. Our government has not said much about it, insisting that it is up to the Iranians to run their own system, an argument we sometimes use and sometimes ignore, depending on how much we dislike the guy in office at the time.
If you're looking to see how this all turns out, my bet would be to keep an eye on a thing the Iranians call "The Counsel of Guardians", a small collection of mullahs who seem to wield the real power there. They've already said that the election results will not be overturned or reviewed, and they have the country's military power backing them up. Our hope is that the current guy, the tieless Mr. A., whose name is impossible to spell, will recall this little favor we've done them by staying low-key. Advice for life: Try to avoid going against anyone known as the "Counsel of Guardians" if possible. And if you do, take a motorcycle helmet with you.

Once we learn how to do something, we can say we have "chops" for this or that activity. A few years back when I lined up for a little ping pong after many years away from the game, I found that my skills were gone, my muscle memory was drawing a blank, and that my "chops" were no longer anything I could count on. It's not the end of the world, but it's not the greatest thing to have happen, either.
We just finished a weekend visit to one of our sons, who has recently moved to the Golden State, within about six hours' drive from here. Things went fine until Son and Daughter-in-Law asked us to keep their three kids for awhile so that they could squeeze in a "date" to the big city. Sure, we said. No problem.
Without going into great detail, we found that our chops for child care were not at the level we had thought. The nadir of the evening came when son #2, who's still just two, but has a dangerous reputation, managed to climb fully clothed into a filling bathtub unassisted while his grandmother searched other places in the home looking for him. The worst part was that he was wearing a, ah, full diaper at the time. When he was finally located, with the water reaching his chest, some repair was required. It was my job to see that he didn't drink the water in the refilled tub, while Granny watched son #1, a lanky five year-old, finish his bath without incident. I later found that it had been too long since I had put pajamas on a preschooler, although eventually that got done, too. Everyone was safely in bed when Mom and Dad came home. That is, everyone under six.
I'm sure the chance to look after the little darlin's will come again. Maybe we should rent some children from the local church congregation members for practice to try to restore our childcare "chops".

Sunday, June 14, 2009

GOP vs. "The Base"

Do you remember "Wilson", the blood-smeared volleyball that became Tom Hanks' conversation partner in the 2000 movie "Cast Away"? The last time I was at the sporting goods store, I noticed that you can now OWN Wilson, or something that looks just like it, for about $20. I'd guess that's a new form of "product placement".

The Old Country (that is, Cedar Rapids, Iowa) became famous for a minute last week. A woman took a picture from her office window in 2007 that now leads the people who study such things to name the first new type of cloud in almost 60 years! What I noticed about the picture was the familiar buildings - the huge complex of structures that make up the Quaker Oats plant which marks the north edge of downtown. I could almost tell precisely where the woman's office window was located from the picture itself. Oh, well. It was interesting for a second or two.

Now the GOP. Schools, churches and political parties all depend on lots of volunteer help. These are folks you depend on to get the scut work done that has to happen in order to reach your goal. In politics, these people are known as "the base" - the ones who would never desert your cause even if the Second Coming happened to get in the way.
The Republicans have such a group, and it is something anyone would envy. But these days, there's a problem. The base thinks it can tell the bosses just who and what they will work for - and with. The Party's gotten narrower, and Reagan's old Big Tent now appears to be locked, with a large sign out front which reads: "Middle age and older white folks only. You must be a Christian, and WE decide WHO that is. This means you, Mormons and other such. We already have one black, and a couple of Latinos. No young people, hippies or especially liberals need apply. Moderates accepted only on a probationary basis. All Pro-Choice go away. No one admitted WITHOUT firearms."
OK, maybe that's too many words for a sign, but the meaning is pretty clear. It isn't so much a Party anymore as a club. And the club's goal isn't winning elections. It's being RIGHT, whatever the cost. And it's even worse than that, because after losing, the Club turns angry and whips itself into a lather because (ready for this?) the people they worked for "weren't REAL GOP candidates, but RINOs". That's GOP sneer talk for "Republican In Name Only". The solution to these Zealots is - going even FURTHER right. That's why venerable Republican senators are now facing challenges from THEIR right, along with the fact that they all seem to want to reach the Strom Thurmond mark - 100 years old - while still in office.
I'm on record as saying the Republican Party will stage a comeback at some point, and I still believe that. Anyway, it's more likely than the prospect of millions leaving the Party to become Libertarians or Ron Paul groupies. But right now the GOP seems like a guy dressed in a suit with a big knife sticking out of his back. You ask urgently if you can help. The guy calmly replies "I can't see it from here, so tell me. Does the knife go with the suit?"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dialogue With the Demented

Anna Kornikova, the former tennis player/model/celebrity babe just turned 28 years old. She never quite got to the very top of the tennis world as a player, but is still around and looks, well, pretty good. The reason she gets a mention here is that her toothsome image turned up in a tennis catalog that came last week. She was doing the marketing thing for a shoe company, but, of course, it's not her feet that made her famous. Should I object that life is so unfair as to always favor those already blessed with BOTH athleticism and beauty? I could, but that wouldn't change anything.

Sticking around in the church means, for us, that you get plenty of chances to help people in all kinds of humble ways. If you are observant, you will learn something about people in the process which you can hopefully apply to your own or someone else's life.
Last week, for instance, I was asked to supply someone who could stay with one of our oldest members for an hour or so while his wife went to the doctor's office. I was going to be in the neighborhood anyway, so I showed up for duty. The wife was in some pain, but the husband, a man now past ninety years old, was perfectly comfortable, though he suffers from dementia, and therefore can't be left alone.
I was not sure what to expect. He had a seat in the living room, and I thought he might just go to sleep. Instead we talked about his life. A native of Liverpool, England, he had been around during some important things, such as WW II and the Battle of Britain. His role in that effort was mostly clerical, so he had no combat stories. He talked at length, however, about Liverpool as a place, especially the port itself. He could name all the docks (Why weren't they just numbered?), and talked of things like carrying large amounts of cash to the docks in order to pay off a debarking crew. He had always, he said, preferred to live near the sea.
I didn't ask him about the recent events of his life, and it's very possible that what I heard was a familiar recital to those who know him better. He couldn't even quite say how he came to live in California, 7,000 miles removed from Liverpool. Still, he seemed completely lucid as he summed up of his views of life. Complaining about things makes no sense, he said, because we arrive where we do as a result of the decisions we make. There it is. Nothing too original or startling, but when someone past ninety sums up human existence, we should listen whether or not the speaker could be described as "demented". It was an hour well spent.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

(Sort of) Summer!

Sure, there's a couple of weeks before summer arrives on the real calendar, but most of the graduation speeches are given, the leaves are back on the trees and the mowers are in operation. Close enough.

I'm not a listener, but the Roman Catholic Church has used Vatican Radio to help put out the message to the faithful for almost eighty years now, around the world, all commercial-free. But that last part is about to change, with the guys in the hats recently deciding it's OK to start selling ads on VR. Someone will doubtless be in charge of making sure all the sponsors are above reproach. Still, I can't help wondering. If it's true that "sex sells", and I have no reason to disagree with that, then what's the marketing power of "NO-sex"? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Stereotyping people, even whole nations, is not wise. It restricts our ability to see new possibilities. We never think, for instance, that such things as Mexican professors of English, French-Canadian NASCAR drivers, Argentine baseball players, slender Japanese sumo wrestlers, Mongolian comedians or Serbian country fiddle players could ever exist. The stereotypes keep us from considering them. Here's another, and this one's true. I'm a big tennis fan who is nonetheless surprised by the success of a Swedish player in this year's French Open. He may not win the whole thing and you may never hear his name, but he's proof that there is at least ONE "fiery Swede" out there, loud, demonstrative and as in-your-face as any American, Spaniard or Russian, competing with the best in the world.

We just returned from a short trip to Iowa, mainly to see family. We had no plans to see others, but on one day, we bought a local paper. The wife turned to the obituaries and immediately saw the obit for a woman we had known for decades as a local church member. She was in poor health when we left, but that was four years ago. Passing through the local airport we were again surprised. A man we had known a long time as the church's custodian had retired, then chose in retirement to go to work checking baggage at the airport, doing his bit in what had been known as the Global War on Terror. He even checked the wife's bag of cocoa powder to make sure it wasn't something more potent!
We saw several towns on the trip. Most are doing fine, but we were saddened most by Cedar Rapids. Overall, it's a nice enough place, but it's not one you'd pick for its natural beauty. The river (Cedar) flows right through downtown, and last year's flood left some nasty damage. Whole neighborhoods were depopulated, and loads of messy stuff remains. The survivors are displaced to FEMA trailers on the edge of the city. They even lost a hundred year-old railroad bridge, but they've also found a new trade printing large OPEN FOR BUSINESS signs for the hard-core hangers-on. Good luck to them.